There’s a tricky and potentially-troubling situation going on when it comes to individuals who are studying counseling in college, but who happen to oppose homosexuality. Jennifer Keeton, a Christian, learned this the hard way after she was expelled from the graduate program at Georgia’s Augusta State University in 2010 for expressing her disagreement with the same-sex lifestyle. Now, two years later, she has lost a subsequent court case defending herself against the school’s decision.
Here’s how the situation unfolded. The university’s program apparently stressed that students couldn’t discriminate against others based on any indicators, including sexual orientation. But Keeton, citing her religious views, refused to alter her engagement with gay students and clients (clearly, these views impacted her relations with these individuals). It’s not clear exactly what Keeting said inside or outside of the classroom that created such a stir, but this is certainly an interest First Amendment case to continue watching.
While the school argues that Keeton deserved to be dismissed, the former student says that she, in fact, was the victim of discrimination — especially considering the fact that she was kicked out of the program explicitly over her personal beliefs.
She was initially put on probation and was told that she would need to follow a “remediation plan” to remain in good standing with the university. This plan, though, included sensitivity training, writing papers about tolerance and the lessons she had learned and attendance at gay pride events. Naturally, Keeton refused to comply and she was removed from the program.
“The case hinged on whether the policies governing the counseling program were neutral and generally applicable to all students, regardless of their religious beliefs,” World on Campus explains. “Judge J. Randall Hall, of the Southern District of Georgia, determined that they were.”
“Keeton’s speech and conduct were evidently impelled by the absolutist philosophical character of her beliefs, but that character does not entitle her to university accommodation and it is irrelevant to the court’s analysis,” Hall wrote, clearly showing favor for Augusta State. “Neutrality as a legal standard is immutable, it does not bend to the strength or tenor of personal conviction.”
World on Campus has more about the judge’s controversial ruling:
In his ruling, Hall compared Keeton’s situation to that of an abortion provider who was required by state regulation to give women information about abortion alternatives. In a 1992 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court determined such regulations did not violate the abortion provider’s First Amendment rights, even though they required him to provide information about pro-life options with which he disagreed. The government has the right to regulate certain professional conduct, as long as it does not single out a particular religion in doing so, Hall ruled.
Currently, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a conservative legal group representing Keeton in the case, is looking at options following the district court’s opinion and will soon make a decision about next steps.
(H/T: Christian Post)